Human milk is the nutritional gold standard for all infants, and especially premature infants. Human milk protects against NEC7-10, sepsis11, and is even correlated with a reduced length-of-stay in the NICU9. In contrast to formula, human milk is a dynamic fluid that contains a wealth of protective factors.
Antibodies, enzymes, growth factors, antioxidants, and oligosaccharides all serve important protective functions. This nutrient rich milk is easily digested by the premature infant. In many cases, the tiny premature gut simply cannot tolerate formula feedings.
Premature infants who are fed human milk experience fewer episodes of feeding intolerance12 and attain full enteral feedings earlier than their formula fed counterparts13. Mothers of premature infants know how important their milk is. However, many struggle to establish or maintain a full supply. In fact, preterm mothers are about 3 times more likely to have a low milk supply than term mothers14.
In the absence of mother’s milk, pasteurized donor human milk (PDHM) is needed. PDHM provides many of the same protections as mother’s milk. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that pasteurized donor human milk reduces the risk of NEC by 79%12. Exclusive human milk feedings, utilizing PDHM are an essential component of any NICU nutrition program.
“Substantial clinical evidence has placed HM [human milk] feeding and donor HM as a basic right for preterm infants…banked donor human milk should be promoted as a standard component of health care for premature infants.”15